Not The Target Market

Customer Service Adventures

We are all a bit ruffled around here these days.

My agitation started with trying to contact Aer Lingus on their “customer service” line to order a gluten-free meal for a soon-approaching trip across the pond for The Engineer’s First Communion.

So far I have waited 46 minutes, 28 minutes, 10 minutes and 7 minutes on hold, each time being interrupted and having to hang up before getting through, if in fact one can get through, which I am beginning to doubt. I’m not even counting the innumerable times I got a busy signal or a “your call didn’t go through” message.

Or the time the inane music (truly, it sounds like something composed by a nursery school with random instruments like xylophones and plastic drums) suddenly stopped and all I heard was a strange hissing sound. I hung up then, too, as I figured I had suddenly been re-routed to the call-center equivalent of the cellar and packed in a box so as to be conveniently out of the way and forgotten for the next five or twenty years.

During these waits, I read page after page of simply awful reviews of Aer Lingus: lost luggage, ridiculously small and unpadded seats, rude staff and inedible food – although the last doesn’t bother me so much, because unless I can order the gluten-free meal, I won’t be eating anything they provide. One reviewer summed it up by saying he would fly United ahead of Aer Lingus in the future. You can’t put it more strongly than that.

I have only flown Aer Lingus once and that was years ago. Thinking back on it, it was a bit of an odd experience: portable CD players were new-ish, but certainly not cutting edge, and many people on the flight had them along to help while away the time. The flight attendants refused to let anyone to switch one on “because they would interfere with the onboard navigation systems.” As I said, it was odd.

I wasn’t cool enough to have a CD player back then; I did have a portable cassette player, however, and the minute I took it out, one of the attendants swooped down on me and demanded I put it away. I said: “But it’s a cassette player” and showed it to her. I can’t say she actually stomped off, but she wasn’t happy.

Normally I fly Virgin Atlantic, which I love. They have always gone above and beyond to help me out if I have a special request or need to make a change. And unlike other airlines I’ve flown, on board Virgin Atlantic, I’ve never once met with a grouchy flight attendant. But, flying them means flying out of Boston and that means a minimum of a 90 minute drive (if all goes well) at very inconvenient times. More often, it means battling traffic, which increases the time on the road exponentially. Just what I look forward to after a long flight.

Aer Lingus has started flying into Hartford (which is much closer for us than Boston) and there is an easy connection to London through Dublin. The great thing about flying through Dublin is that you can clear U.S. immigration there and avoid the chaos in Boston. Even with Global Entry, which I have, the machines don’t always work and you still have to wait in line (sometimes a very long one which snakes back on itself three or four times) to exit the baggage claim and hand over your forms.

I thought Hartford was worth checking out. Now, after reading all those reviews, I am having second thoughts; but then, I remind myself that people are more likely to write about a bad experience than a good one. I also remind myself that Mr. and Mrs. S. came over last winter on Aer Lingus and declared it a fine option. As Mrs. S. will tell you: An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.

Other airlines let you order a special meal online. Aer Lingus only lets you order an “upgraded” meal, which from the descriptions are not gluten-free and for which they are happy to charge your credit card. For special dietary meals, including kids’ meals, you must spend hours trying to call them.

If you can order an “extra charge” special meal on the website, there is no reason you shouldn’t also be able to order a special dietary meal. Aer Lingus is deliberately shooting themselves in the foot with this one by creating a hassle where one doesn’t need to exist and by irritating customers before, according to the reviews, they are seated in the incredibly narrow, unpadded seats and encounter the dragon flight attendants.

Another point that I am flummoxed over is that in all the bad press about Aer Lingus, the reviewers mentioned calling them repeatedly. I frankly can’t see how anyone manages that. I will keep trying when I have the odd moment free although I am now planning for “an adventure” and thinking of creative snacks I can bring – snacks that won’t get confiscated by security or immigration.

In the meantime, what with yesterday’s terrorist attack in Manchester, The Hunter, parfit gentil knight that he is, thinks I need protection and so is concerned about my going alone. But really, even if his schedule allowed it and even if his back could stand another hop across the water so soon after our March trip, what could he do?

I know I have quoted my grandmother before, but she was right: If it’s not one damn thing, it’s another. And so we remain ruffled.

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